Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Jr., announced the creation of the Governor’s Task Force on Medical Malpractice and Health Care Access and named the Honorable Raymond Thieme chairman.
Gov. Ehrlich has directed the task force to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of Maryland’s growing medical malpractice crisis. Judge Thieme served on the 5th Appellate Circuit of the Court of Special Appeals from 1996 until his retirement in 2000.
“The soaring cost of malpractice insurance has reached a crisis point,” said Governor Ehrlich. “High costs are driving doctors to limit their practices or even close their businesses all together – leaving patients with fewer options when choosing medical care,” said Governor Ehrlich. “Mothers and expectant women often suffer the most as scores of obstetrician/gynecologists close their practices or choose to no longer practice obstetrics. I have asked Judge Thieme and this task force to conduct a thorough review of this malpractice crisis and to identify steps needed to solve it.”
The task force consists of individuals with experience in health care and medical malpractice issues, including legislators, lawyers, doctors, health care practitioners, administrators, a trial court judge, and other interested persons. The task force will meet over the summer and through the fall. Among issues to be considered are changes to the tort system, patient safety initiatives, insurance reform, and alternative dispute resolution. The task force is expected to report its findings to the Governor in November.
“I am honored Governor Ehrlich has asked me to take on this matter of vital importance,” said Judge Thieme. “I look forward to working with all parties to fashion a realistic solution that is acceptable to both the Governor and the legislature.”
Malpractice insurance rates rose 28 percent over the past year for many Maryland doctors in 2004, with an even greater increase anticipated for 2005. In particular, obstetricians, neurologists, and orthopedic surgeons suffered from some of the most drastic rate increases.
The rate hikes are reportedly a direct result of rising jury verdicts and unpredictable malpractice settlements. During the last four years, the total annual amount paid out by Medical Mutual, the largest medical malpractice insurer for doctors in the State, jumped from $47 million to $74 million, and the number of million-dollar-plus payouts tripled.
In addition, more than just doctors are affected by rising malpractice premiums. Nurse midwives have seen major increases in premiums. Maryland hospitals also reportedly suffer from soaring insurance rates.
In 2003, Maryland hospitals saw medical liability insurance costs increase an average of 38 percent, which equates to $30 million diverted away from patient care. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and birthing centers have also experienced dramatic increases, with a birthing center in Baltimore recently forced to close its doors reportedly due to a doubling of the center’s malpractice premiums in the past year.
“I am deeply committed to solving this issue, which threatens the health care of all Marylanders, and I look forward to reviewing the task force’s findings this fall,” added Governor Ehrlich.
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